Earlier this week, it was reported that Apple decided to remove a Hong Kong police-tracking application from the App Store after receiving criticism from the Chinese government. Tim Cook, Apple’s current CEO now justifies the move, joining a growing list of private entities succumbing to subservience to the Communist country.
“Over the past several days we received credible information, from the Hong Kong Cybersecurity and Technology Crime Bureau, as well as from users in Hong Kong, that the app was being used maliciously to target individual officers for violence and to victimize individuals and property where no police are present,” Cook wrote in the memo, a copy of which was obtained by Bloomberg News. He also said the app violates local laws.
The app in question was the HKmap.live, which allows users to report police locations, use of tear gas, and other details that are added to a regularly updated map. Another version is available for smartphones that use the Android operating system.
More significantly, HKmap.live is a crowdsourcing application where people of varying backgrounds can input data on. With the backdrop of the heating protests in Hong Kong regarding their stand on independence against the Communist country, the move to remove the app from the app store shows that China has great influence over foreign private entities.
In particular, the Chinese government, through its official newspaper, told that they see the smartphone app as a platform that allows activists to report police movements, prompting illegal activities in the region.
Charles Mok, a legislative counselor in Hong Kong, said he was “deeply disappointed” by Apple’s move and contested the company’s reasons in an open letter to Cook.
“There are numerous cases of innocent passers-by in the neighborhood injured by the Hong Kong Police Force’s excessive force in crowd dispersal operations,” Mok wrote in the letter, which he posted on Twitter. “Information shared using HKmap.live, in fact, helps citizens avoid areas where pedestrians not involved in any criminal activities might be subjected to police brutality.”
“These decisions are never easy, and it is harder still to discuss these topics during moments of furious public debate,” the CEO wrote. “National and international debates will outlive us all, and, while important, they do not govern the facts. In this case, we thoroughly reviewed them, and we believe this decision best protect our users.”
“It is no secret that technology can be used for good or for ill. This case is no different. The app in question allowed for the crowdsourced reporting and mapping of police checkpoints, protest hotspots, and other information. On its own, this information is benign.”
From a broader perspective, it can be determined that Apple, like others, is struggling to balance trying to appease China and upholding freedom of speech and expression especially when Greater China, including Hong Kong and Taiwan, is Apple’s largest market after the US. The iPhone maker is also one of the most visible symbols of corporate America in the world’s No. 2 economy.